Preparing Your Child For A New Baby
Preparing for the arrival of a new baby is all sorts of things... exciting, nerve-wracking, stressful, miraculous... and that's just your own feelings! What if you already have a child? I'm sure you've already been thinking how to tell them, wondering how they'll react, imagining how they'll adapt...
I'm expecting my second child in early July and there will be a 6.5 year age gap between my children. I was initially a little worried about that because I wondered how it might impact on their lives in the future. Well, my most pressing question was in fact, 'Will they both be able to enjoy Disneyland at the same time?!' I know, I know, back to being serious...
I guess there are pros and cons for any kind of age gap, small or large. At six, I know that my daughter is old enough to express a real and thoughtful desire for a sibling, that she understands about basic needs, has the ability to discuss her feelings and show an understanding of change.
I can only hope that as she gets older, having a much younger sister (yes, my baby is another girl, apparently!) won't become an irritation to her. It feels pretty cute right now, whilst she is desperate to share a bedroom and have cuddles but what will happen when she is 15 and her sister is 9, I wonder? That's surely when their differences will feel most vast. I believe, however, that age-gap differences will lessen as they get older and that they'll find a renewed relationship after any possible temporarily awkward dynamics. Or perhaps, they'll always get on really well because they aren't in direct competition with each other. Who knows?
VANESSA: We let Oscar know that he was so incredibly important to the baby and we planned ways he could help the baby - he practiced his songs - rocking the crib - selected stories - we chatted about how the baby would grow quickly and when could play, etc. I kept telling Oscar that a parent's love doesn’t half when a baby comes - not shared but doubled - and we had special time every day together which altered in length but when Ru slept between feeds, etc., we would have a story or play a game so he knew I was still there for him too.
Nonetheless, at The Hencoop (that's our collective noun for the mix of Hennessy and Cooper family members!), we are all so excited for the new arrival! I'm motivated by my daughter's own desire and excitement and we're enjoying sharing this journey with her. In fact, full disclosure, she has known since I first discovered I was pregnant, which I know is controversial since most people wait until they have had their first scan, but it was also an accident... a case of me feeling overwhelmed with happiness and pretty much yelling, "I'm pregnant!"
I faced making a swift decision in that moment - either try to quickly cover it up or just be truthful. I chose to be truthful and explain in child-friendly terms that it was just the beginning of the road and that some babies don't 'stick', that we had to watch and wait. Thankfully, I think my daughter was balanced in her reaction. She was both overjoyed and pragmatic.
Then, at my earliest scan at 7 weeks, when the sonographer couldn't find anything, we did feel hugely regretful that she knew so early. Mummy guilt is real. Fortunately, at the follow-up scan, the situation miraculously changed and we were able to take home a scan picture for her to see. Whilst I wouldn't necessarily advocate telling your child as early as we unintentionally did, on the whole it's been positive.
MELISSA: When pregnant with Lilly, we included Mia in everything, scans, getting the nursery ready, talked lots about how things were going to change but that she was about to have a best friend for life. Once Lilly was here, Mia has just turned 3 so still a little too small for most things but she would help get nappies and wipes ready for me and we allowed her to have lots of cuddles. I think as long you include them in as much as you can, it’s not as scary as it seems. I cried a few weeks before my due date with Lilly because I was scared that Mia would feel left out and unloved because life had been all about her for so long but everything will just slot into place.
You may be finding that everyone is willing to share ideas with you for preparing for those initial sibling introductions and life beyond... I took to social media (who doesn't?) to find out how other mums smoothed the transition. There's loads of helpful advice out there! I've been doing some of it already as I think there's an element of knowing your own child's personality and trusting your instincts in figuring out the best ways to effectively introduce a sibling (both in concept and in reality)!
So far, we've included my daughter in as much as possible which was a common theme in the advice my friends online gave me.
One thing I'd particularly recommend is this 'Big Sister Diary' to support your child's feelings on the matter (click on the image to buy yours!*):
My daughter has really enjoyed having this personal space to write down her experiences. So far, this includes attending scans, being the official 'gender revealer' (as she called it), interpreting the scan pictures, sometimes feeling jealous that the baby gets to go everywhere with me, and drawing pictures of herself helping out (though she has repeatedly informed me that changing nappies is a no-go zone for her)! I'd recommend the diary as a way to stimulate conversation, reflect back on feelings, and record experiences which will make wonderful reading later in life.
We also bought her this T-shirt to help her feel special (click on the image to buy yours!*):
It also made for a fun part of our pregnancy announcement on facebook!
However, we can all use a little help. Other people's stories have been both reassuring and useful! I will certainly be drawing upon the many ideas I was given which were successful for other mums! Thank you so much to all those who contributed.
So, if you are preparing your child for a new baby too, then these tips for sibling acquaintance might also be useful for you...
JENNY: I think you have to let the older child lead on this. Absolutely make them feel included but let them decide how much they want to know, how much involvement they’re ready for, etc. I had a 3yr gap and the only ‘rule’ we had was that if I was feeding the baby, I couldn’t ‘play’ with the 3YO; feeding time became a kind of story time for the 3 of us.
DONNA: Each one of my children came with gifts for the others, so when they came to the hospital to see baby had arrived, baby had also arrived with a gift.
KATIE: We always said that the baby was Alexa’s. That sounds strange but it wasn’t mummy’s baby, it was Alexa’s baby. When we had visitors, we would leave (sounds awful!) the baby in the Moses basket (same room) and we would make it about Alexa and also say, "Do you want to show so and so your new baby/sister?"
ANN: I don't think you really can... the best laid plans and all. Just go with the flow.
TRACEY: Katheryn arrived with a gift for John and when he came to visit I left her in the crib and said to him, "Did he want to hold his new baby?"
NADINE: Roo’s birthday was the day after I had Noah. So when we brought Noah home, we had a little tea party for Roo and gave him a birthday present from Noah. When we had Jesse, it was so close to Christmas so we gave them a present each from Jesse and said he’d asked Father Christmas to give them a present earlier for being such good big brothers.
GEMMA: I had Erin on the bed while I sat in the chair. By her side were a couple of Brum toys that Erin 'had got' Sophie. We also let Sophie choose a special toy for Erin to keep on a shelf. We also let Sophie pick a name while Erin was a bump, she was called Gok. She became Erin Gok when born (Sophie was 3)!
JENNIFER: Story books. Chloe was 20 months old when Phoebe was born. We would read 'There’s a house in mummy’s tummy’. We would sing songs and give kisses to mummy’s tummy too. Also, we decorated and settled Chloe in her ‘big girl’ bedroom at about 18 months so she didn’t feel ‘pushed out’ of the nursery by her new sibling. Chloe also loved playing with her dolls and caring for them which was great once Phoebe arrived as we would change nappies together.
RUTH: The gap between mine was only 19 months but I got her to fetch things when I needed them and bath her doll, change its nappy, etc., but really they were practically babies at the same time! I was 16 when my brother was born!! My Mum only had to show me a tiny vest and I was hooked! Plus she taught me to knit. I had made loads of things by the time he was born.
STEPHANIE: When Mia came up the hospital, I made sure I wasn't sitting holding the baby in my arms. A friend said to put the baby in the crib next to you and let her come in and sit with you and see you're ok and talk to her. Then have your partner pass her the baby to hold while she sits with you and just have the 4 of you there. You'll find people will bring a present for first child as well as the baby when they visit so they love that part.
SANDIE: Am I the only one who felt a sense of guilt when I was pregnant with my 2nd? I cried a lot as I thought how could I ever love another human being the same, and how can I share that and make them feel part of that without feeling rejected! So many things when through my mind and I suffered terribly with those thoughts... my anxieties went through the roof and I had to talk to lots of other woman and my doctor to seek some help... I kept thinking do I buy her lots of gifts so she feels included? Do I let her help choose things for her baby sister? Do I let her sleep in my bedroom when the baby's born so she didn't feel rejected? So many questions!!
But after all that, I can honestly say she literally fell in love with her sister and it all fell into place naturally!! I think we definitely think and worry a lot more than we should... of course only natural! But my advice to you is keep those chats going about the whole going to be a big sister, etc. and let her join in as much as possible and the rest will just be this beautiful dream that come trues and fulfils you with everything you could ever wish for!!
TONI: Our little one helped me pick out the baby's clothes, also towards the end of the pregnancy he would go into her room and look at her things/through her drawers before she arrived (me constantly putting it all back away!) but we were happy he was interested in what was happening. We also did a hospital present and made sure he was the first to meet his little sister before any other family members - 3 months on and he’s very loving and caring of his little sister long may it continue.
CLAIRE: Include them in everything, my eldest even came to every hospital appointment and Drs about the baby, every scan, she was there for everything and first to see baby when born. Everyone will bring her a present when baby born too. Let her wash all the baby's clothes before, peg on line and put away all ready. Handmake a mobile from hangers and colouring. My 2 girls are best friends and not an ounce of jealousy. A few weeks after Susie was born, I left her with Daddy and Ellie and I had a night away at Legoland. She still treasures that memory.
AMY: I took a present to hospital from baby to big sister. Our first born was only 2 years 10 months old when number 2 came along, so we had a gift at the hospital so it seemed more of a celebration. Everyone close to us paid loads of attention to first born when they came to visit baby and waited for first born to introduce/show off baby... we all made a big deal about how being a big sister is so special!
JADI: Harley was only 2.5 when Jude was born, so he didn't really get it and wasn't overly interested but we spoke about Harley's 'new baby' a lot and included him in everything. When I was pregnant with Noah, the boys picked out nursery decor (with mummy's help of course)! They each had a copy of the scan pics that was theirs to keep. I remember Harley taking Noah's scan pic everywhere! But when each of the boy's brothers were born I made sure they were the very first to meet their brothers when they arrived, before any other family and friends.
When we did have visitors, I let the boys take the lead and show their new brothers off to them and tell them all about their new baby bros. I also gave the boys big bro gifts and made them little 'promotion to big brother' certificates! Whilst pregnant with Noah, Harley loved coming up with baby names... he wanted Harry or Hermoine as we love Harry Potter in this house and he also loved Rapunzel or Edward!
Had to explain the whole boobie milk thing to them when Noah arrived, how it gets in mummy's boobies (all mummy's food and drink I have turns into special milk!) and NO they weren't allowed some too from mummy's boobies as they have big boy milk from a cup! However... I did squirt some boobie milk into a cup for them to try once, and they said it was horrible. The things we do to satisfy their little inquisitive minds!!!
Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to this post! I'll let you know how we get on with all your tips!
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“Hi, I’m Kate, a family photographer in Kent. In my unique studio near Sittingbourne, styled like the modern Instagram home you dream of, you’ll love the natural, fresh, light photos in your family gallery, captured whilst you relax and enjoy just being together. Fancy an outdoor family photoshoot on the beach or in the woods? Let’s create that timeless collection of images for your family before anyone grows any older! I’d love to meet you and capture the memories you’re making along the way…”
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